All human rights restrictions have to be based in law. This ensures that human rights are not restricted arbitrarily. The requirement for human rights to be based in law also ensures that human rights restrictions are “authorised” by a legitimate lawmaker that has been elected by the people.

The requirement that human rights restrictions need to be based in law does not mean that the concrete restriction needs to be mentioned in law. Sometimes a measure that restricts human rights is mentioned directly in law.

example In Latvia, Article 1 of the Law on the Election of the Saeima (the Latvian Parliament) states that citizens of Latvia who have attained 18 years of age on the election day have the right to vote. Thus, the age limit for exercising the right to vote is set directly in law.

Read more about general measures.

In other cases, the law may give state authorities or officials the discretion to decide whether any measures that restrict human rights are needed and the measures which would be appropriate in the situation at hand.

example Judges are entitled to apply various restrictive measures to suspects or accused persons in the pre-trial stage of criminal proceedings. According to Article 243 of the Criminal Procedure Law, they can choose between measures such as detention on remand, notification of a change of residence, placement under police supervision, bail, house arrest or other measures. The Criminal Procedure Law entitles judges to make an individual assessment and to decide the measure which is the most appropriate for the situation and person at hand.

Read more about individual restrictions.

note In the context of human rights restrictions, the term “law” is broader. It includes all legal norms issued by state authorities that are entitled to adopt binding general rules. In Latvia, this includes the laws adopted by the Latvian Parliament, Cabinet of Ministers regulations, bylaws issued by municipalities, the Latvian Bank or other institutions that have the power to issue binding legal norms.

Quality of law

Laws restricting human rights need to be of a sufficient quality. This means that they need to be adopted by using proper procedures, and be accessible and sufficiently clear. In Latvia, the Constitutional Court of Latvia assesses three questions in order to assess whether a restriction of human rights is based in “law”: 

  • whether the law has been adopted though proper procedures set out in laws regulating the legislative process;
  • whether the law is promulgated and publicly available;
  • whether the law is sufficiently clear and foreseeable enabling a person to understand their rights and obligations and foresee the consequences of a failure to fulfil them.

A law can still be considered sufficiently clear and foreseeable if lawyers and courts need to interpret it. Because laws are usually general and applicable in different situations, they may be abstract and require some interpretation. Laws that place restrictions on professionals can also be written in more complex language than those applying to everyone else.

example Companies working in the field of security may need to fulfil a number of specific technical requirements in order to be able to operate. They may be written in a complex, technical terms as they are meant to be applied by professionals in the area of security. However, criminal laws defining criminal offences which everyone is obliged to  observe must be written in simple terms understandable to everyone.

Special obligations of a lawmaker

In Latvia, the Constitutional Court of Latvia requires laws restricting human rights to have been adopted through a legislative process that is compatible with the so-called principle of good law-making. This principle guarantees that a human rights restriction is adopted through a democratic legislative process, which includes the law-maker hearing and analysing different opinions.

Where the restriction involves balancing the rights of different groups of people, the principle of good law-making requires that different alternatives and principles important in the balancing of those rights are properly assessed in the legislative process.

Human Rights Guide

A European platform for human rights education